Great War Wednesday: 1916–Breaker of Nations

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The first tanks appeared on the battlefield during 1916.

The year 1916 served as opening night of a danse macabre for which the two preceding years of combat had been mere dress rehearsals. This middle year of the war would see many, if not most of the battles which would become touchstones of nations in their collective memories of the Great War.

At a small French fortress town called Verdun the German High Command would make the ill-fated decision to “bleed France white” and the cream of a generation of two nations would perish before the high walls of the mighty fortress which rang with the battle-cry “ON NE PASSERANT PAS! They shall not pass!” The battle would last most of the year with casualties considered staggering by even the standards of the Great War.

Later in the year, Britain would launch the much rehearsed and anticipated offensive along the Somme River. Pitched by the British military leaders as a backbreaking blow to end the stalemate along the Western Front, the months long Battle of the Somme began with what remains the worst single day of death in the long and storied battle history of the British Isles as 60,000 men — one fifth of the TOTAL British casualties of the twelve year long Napoleonic Wars — died in the battle’s opening act as the British had to face the question of just whose back was being broken.

1916 would see the only full scale engagement between the German High Seas Fleet and the Royal Navy’s Home Fleet in the entire war. What the naval history of World War One lacked in frequency, it made up for in magnitude as The Battle of Jutland became the largest surface-ship-only naval battle in world history.

In the south, Italy and Austria-Hungary would fight five more Battles of the Isonzo River to little effect besides mass carnage. Meanwhile in the East, the Russian bear would awaken in a mighty way and show just what the largest army in the world could do when led by an effective general. In the few short weeks of the Brusilov Offensive, Russia very nearly knocked Austria-Hungary completely out of the war.

The year would see other nations join the war as well with Italy declaring war on Germany in addition to Austria-Hungary and Romania entered the war on the side of the Entente’ powers, a decision she would instantly regret. Still, all eyes looked across the Atlantic to see what the greatest neutral of all — America — would do. Would she stand beside her mother country and fight with the Entente’ or would she side with the Central Powers and crush Britain and France forever? As 1916 progressed, the only certainty was uncertainty.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

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